Coercion under English Law and Indian Law- A Comparative Analysis

Under Section 15 of Indian Contract Act, 1872 –

“Coercion” defined – “Coercion” is the committing, or threatening to commit any act forbidden by the Indian Penal Code, or the unlawful detaining, or threatening to detain, any property, to the prejudice of any person whatever, with the intention of causing any person to enter into an agreement. (45 of 1860).

Explanation.- It is immaterial whether the Indian Penal Code is or is not force in the place where the coercion is employed. (45 of 1860).

Coercion as defined under Section 15. It corresponds with most part with ‘Duress’, known to English Law.

Coercion comprises of the following two elements :

  1. Committing or threatening to commit an act which is contrary to law with the intention of causing any person to enter into an agreement ;
  2. Which compels an individual to act in an involuntary manner.

In case a contract is entered into by coercion, the contract shall be voidable under Section 19 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872.

Also, in case certain money has been paid or goods been delivered by the party to the contract under coercion, the same is recoverable under Section 72 of the Act.

Coercion: Voidable Contract

To cause any person to enter into an agreement is not necessary. It has been held in Purushottam Daji Mandalik v. Pandurang Chintaman Biwalkar[1] Plaintiff sued the defendant to set aside a sale-deed on he ground of coercion under Section 39 of the Specific Relief Act, 1963. Particulars of the coercion alleged were given in the plaint and further elucidated in the plaintiff’s deposition and supported by definite willingness to the effect that here has been open and violent abduction and severe beating to procure signature of the document. The contract was declared voidable.

Burden of Proof

The invalidating circumstances, which allege coercion must be stated by the party relying on the defence of coercion. Therefore, the aggrieved party which wants to set aside the contract will have to establish that the consent was obtained by coercion.

Duress

What the India Law calls coercion is called in English duress or menace. Duress is said to consist in actual or threatened violence or imprisonment of the contracting party or his wife, parent or child, inflicted or threatened by the other party or by one acting with his knowledge and for his advantage. Duress must be such as to cause immediate violence and also to unnerve a person with ordinary firmness of mind.

Test for Duress

The person who applies pressure to extract a promise from another is not allowed to excuse his wrongful behavior by using other reasons which the victim may have had for making the promise. In the case of Barton v. Armstrong[2], where the Court observed that it is enough that the pressure “was a reason (not the reason, nor the predominant reason nor the clinching reason) why the complainant acted the way he did.” In this case: A exerted pressure on B by threatening to kill B if he did not enter the agreement. There were other commercial reasons which might have induced B to enter into the agreement even in the absence of the threats from A. It was held that it was enough that A’s threat was a reason that contributed to the decision to enter into the agreement. It was not necessary to show that it was the prime reason.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COERCION AND DURESS

Coercion in India means committing or threatening to commit an act forbidden by the Indian Penal Code, duress under common law, consists in actual violence or threat of violence to a person. It includes doing of an illegal act against a person, whether it be a crime or a tort. Unlike coercion, duress is not confined to unlawful acts forbidden by any specific penal law like the Indian Penal Code in India.

Detaining a property or threatening to detain any property is also covered within the definition of coercion whereas duress is constituted by acts or threats against the person and not against his property.

India, coercion may proceed from a person who is not a party to the contract, and it may also be directed against a person who, against, may be a stranger to contract i.e. a third party.

Duress does not cover acts done by a party to the contract, or a person stranger to contract. In England, duress should proceed from a party to the contract and is also directed against the party to the contract himself, or his wife, parent, child, or other near relative.


[1] AIR 1968 SCR 705

[2] UKPC 1976 AC 104